Eastercon 2015, the annual convention celebrating the best that Science Fiction and Fantasy has to offer, drew to a close on Monday. Stepping away from it, back into the cold light of day, it’s hard to shake a feeling of having slipped back through a cosmic doorway, having been briefly swept away within some weird and wonderful parallel reality.
This convention was very much about the energy of the people, and a community which opened wide its arms; it was almost overwhelming in that sense. From late the first night, when the network’s weary reporters were coaxed into a drink with the ever affable Ian Whates and BSFA chair Donna Scott, and ended up engaged in conversation with Jim Burns, who is such a treasure trove of fascinating tales we suspect we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of them.
Add to this the pleasure of the following evening encountering an artistic triumvirate of Chris Moore, Jim Burns and Chris Baker (aka: Fangorn), prompting a flippant musing that this must be some sort of artist’s mind-meld. The response was a telling one: for many of them, the conventions simply represent an opportunity to meet up with old friends again. It is a sentiment that can’t be overlooked when it comes to Eastercon: real friendships are formed here; in many ways, the items on the programme play second fiddle, with most attendees to be found scattered across the various bars and sponsored parties.
This is one of the most appealing aspects of these gatherings, where authors, artists, fans and casual attendees mingle freely together. For the most part there are no discernible airs and graces; no “us and them”, where the stars of the show and the fans are separated by an impenetrable fame barrier. This acceptance of each other, this recognition of being joined together by a mutual love of genre fiction is part of what makes Eastercon so special.
A long standing friend recounted one evening about his experiences when working security detail at a previous convention and how it had allowed him to experience a completely different event. It’s a fitting observation because there are indeed multiple levels to Eastercon. The best way to really get the feel of it is to dig, and mine the wealth of tales that almost everyone you encounter has to tell. This is, after all, a gathering of keen intellects and creative minds.
Everyone from emerging stars like the BSFA award nominated Neil Williamson and Ruth EJ Booth, to some of the up-and-coming, ground level authors like Jessica Meats, Deborah Jay and Owen Elgie. These are but a small snapshot of those trying to reach a wider audience with their own truly individual voices.
The programme itself was the usual eclectic mix: author readings, writer’s workshops, Star Trek parody (a reunion of the fan favourite Spock In Manacles), the Robot Wars-like Dalekdrome, and talks on everything from Steampunk to Vampires, not to mention serious lectures on what lies over the horizon for real life space travel.
There were bittersweet notes too: the obituary wall dominated by newspaper articles of the passing of Terry Pratchett and Tessa Farmer’s BSFA award winning 3D sculpture The Wasp Factory, in honour of Iain Banks’ seminal novel – reminders of the void these literary behemoths have left behind them. So too Edward James’ winning non fiction entry, SF & Fantasy Writers and the First World War. It’s encouraging that Science Fiction remembers the past while looking to the future.
All of these are but a small snippet of what it means to attend this literary convention. Because it is very much about the people: a demographic that encompasses the full spectrum of age groups, sexual persuasions, ethnicity, race and beliefs. In that way it is a microcosm, a view of what a fully integrated and accepting culture could look like. Where people come to swap stories, share ale and enjoy all that speculative fiction has to offer. It is an essential experience. We can’t wait for the next one.
Rob Malan is a writer, reviewer and freelance editor. He is a self-proclaimed movie aficionado, and passionate advocate of great story telling across various media formats, whether that be in films, TV, gaming, books or graphic novels. He holds a dream of one day finding the means to transmit the multiple epic stories in his head telepathically to the world at large, and retains a vivid imagination.